Archive for the Typography Category

The pioneers of color printing

Posted in People in Media History, Print Media, Typography with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on June 30, 2016 by multimediaman

Red Apple Green Leaves Blue Sky

Color is a perception; it is the response of the human visual system to light reflected from objects in the world around us. We learn as children to associate these color perceptions with names: the red of an apple, the green of the leaves or the blue of the sky. More scientifically, color is the way our eyes, optic nerve and brain receive and process different wavelengths of the visible spectrum of electromagnetic radiation.

It took hundreds of years of thought and experiment—beginning with Isaac Newton’s 1672 idea that white light is the source of color sensation—to arrive at the modern understanding of color and the way we perceive it. In 1802, the visible spectrum of electromagnetic energy was defined by Thomas Young when he measured various wavelengths of light and established their relationship to color, i.e. red is about 650 nm, green is about 510 nm and blue is about 475 nm.

Visible Light as a Segment of Electromagic Waves

The visible portion of the electromagnetic spectrum represents all the colors of the rainbow

Later, Young and Hermann von Helmholtz developed the theory of trichromatic color vision. They surmised that the human eye has three types of photoreceptors, each with particular sensitivity to a corresponding range of light waves. In the 1950s it was proved—with advanced measuring equipment—that the three kinds of visual receptors (cones) have the capacity to sense many combinations of light wavelengths and see them as all the colors of the rainbow.

Knowledge of the properties of light and color was a major achievement of the scientific revolution (1500 to 1900) that—alongside the discovery of graphical perspective and other mathematical linear projections—transformed the visual arts. Artists and craftsmen that exclusively relied on their sensibility, talent and experience were able to integrate the principles of science into their works, bringing a degree of realism and accuracy that was previously impossible.

While the history of two-dimensional color representation is most often associated with fine art painting—the fresco, oil and tempera works of the Renaissance masters—the lesser known origins of color printing took a parallel development in time. Starting with the birth of mechanical metal type in Germany during the High Renaissance, a quest was begun to conquer the challenge of practical and high-quality color printing.

Relief color, Fust and Schoeffer (1457)

Page from the Mainz Psalter

A three-color page from the Mainz Psalter printed by Fust and Schoeffer in 1457

There is evidence that Johannes Gutenberg experimented with color during the printing of his famous 42-line Bible. For the most part, however, traditional hand-painted ornamental color lettering was used by Gutenberg alongside the black letter printing type he invented around 1450. Shortly thereafter, relief printing of color type and other ornamental figures was performed remarkably well by Gutenberg’s former collaborators on the printing of the Bible, Johann Fust and Peter Schoeffer.

In 1457, Fust and Schoeffer printed the Mainz Psalter with three colors—black, red and blue—all at one time. Their ingenious technique of compound printing involved interlocking metal type characters that were inked separately and reassembled for a single impression on the printing press. Although it returned extraordinary results, the process was very time consuming and expensive.

Intaglio color, Teyler ( 1680)

Johan Teyler intaglio color print

Johan Teyler intaglio color print

For most of the next two centuries, limited color printing was attempted as hand-colored pages remained the preferred method of pictorial representation. As various printing techniques spread across Europe, new approaches to color reproduction were tested. Some color illustrations were made using wood blocks.

By the mid-fifteenth century, intaglio engraving emerged as the standard method for printing images in black and white. Around 1680, a mathematician and engineer from Nijmegen, Holland named Johan Teyler developed a means of dabbing different colored inks into the wells of intaglio plates—originally intended for black-only printing—to make a full-color impression all at one time. Like Fust and Schoeffer’s work, Teyler’s color results were artistically beautiful but could not be developed into a viable commercial process.

Three-color mezzotint, Le Blon (1720)

Jacob Christoph Le Blon’s three-color mezzotint of 1722

Jacob Christoph Le Blon’s three-color mezzotint of 1722

Following the publication in 1704 of Isaac Newton’s discoveries regarding the physics of light and color—especially the idea that all colors are made of different combinations of red, blue and yellow (this was later proven to be imprecise for both light waves and pigments)—a few printers began working with techniques in three-color mezzotint printing. By this time, mezzotint copperplates were the favored image reproduction method because they rendered tones more easily than engraving.

In 1711, the Frankfurt-born painter Jacob Christoph Le Blon, basing himself directly upon Newton’s theory, mastered trichromatic mezzotint printing in his Amsterdam studio. Le Blon first tried and failed to commercialize his invention in Amsterdam, The Hague and Paris. He relocated in London in 1720, successfully obtained a royal patent from George I for his process and opened up a business selling printed color copies of oil paintings.

While his technical accomplishment was a significant step forward, Le Blon’s business lasted for three years before bankruptcy forced him back to Paris. Creating an appropriate balance of intensity between the primary color plates and maintaining tight registration between the three press impressions upon the paper was an exceedingly difficult and costly trial-and-error process.

Four-color mezzotint, L’Admiral and Gautier (1736)

Test printing of yellow and blue plates of the human skull by L’Admiral (1738) and the four-color mezzotint of the musculature of the head by Gautier (1745)

Test printing of yellow and blue plates of the human skull by L’Admiral (1738) and the four-color mezzotint of the musculature of the head by Gautier (1745)

It is documented that J. C. Le Blon also invented four-color mezzotint printing by adding black to the red, yellow and blue plates on a few of his prints. However, the perfection RYBK (K is for the key color, black) model was made by others, especially following Le Blon’s death in 1741. Among those who contributed were the Dutch engraver and printer Jan L’Admiral and the French painter Jacques Gautier, who had both been assistants to Le Blon. L’Admiral and Gautier initially produced color plates of human anatomy for medical research publications in Paris in the 1730s and 1740s.

In France, Gautier proved to be something of a charlatan and attempted to take full credit for the invention of four-color printing. He started a periodical in 1752 called Observations on natural history, on physics and painting in which popular sensationalism appears to have been his primary objective. Gautier fabricated a full-color image of a “siren” with the body of a seahorse and a hideous head of a human and reproduced some images that bordered on pornography. Nonetheless, Gautier’s journal proved to be among the first financially successful uses of color printing; it was published quarterly for five years.

Chromolithography, Engelmann (1837)

Godefroy Engelmann 1838 chromolithograph copy and the original oil of Master Lambton

Godefroy Engelmann 1838 chromolithograph copy and the original oil of Master Lambton

The invention of lithography by the Bavarian Alois Senefelder in 1796 brought a fundamentally new approach to printing. While relief letter press and intaglio mezzotint were mechanical printing processes, lithography relied upon the chemical antipathy of oil and water to transfer the image onto paper. The new method enabled artists to draw on the surface of limestone instead of the much more difficult etching or engraving of metal plates. In 1818, Senefelder experimented with lithographic color reproduction and pointed the way forward for others.

For the next two decades, lithographers from Germany, France and England made strides with color, for the most part printing decorative ornamentations or title pages of relief printed books. The chromolithography during this time was also a return to a multi-color approach of the seventeenth century as opposed to the later and more advanced three- or four-color mezzotint separation process.

Chromolithography came of age with the work of the French-German Godefroy Engelmann of Mulhouse. After becoming a pioneer and master in monochrome lithography, Engelmann made significant progress with four-color lithographs in 1837. He moved to Paris a year later and obtained a patent for his process. His works proved that chromolithography could effectively render lifelike prints of landscapes, flower and fruit arrangements and the most difficult human forms.

Toward modern color printing

The four-color chromolithography of the mid-nineteenth century finally brought color printing to an economically viable balance of quality, time and cost. However, full color printing was still largely a special process that was performed separately from letterpress black-only text print. With the rapid industrial expansion of book and newspaper publishing, color work remained essentially a very slow, craft-based process that required highly skilled artisans.

The production of relief, intaglio and lithographic “prints” and “plates” remained the convention for color work during the balance of the 1800s. These products were most often sold as single items—sometimes for as little a penny each—or bound into books as illustrations. It would require the development and maturity of three major advancements in the graphic arts to integrate printed color together with black text: color photography by Thomas Sutton (1861) and halftone reproduction by Frederic Ives (1881) and the CMYK ink model (1906).

Initially, some black and white halftones were enhanced with synthetically applied color. By the 1920s, improvements in mechanical color separation techniques and the growth of magazine publishing made it possible for some titles to afford full-color pictures and black text to be printed together on sheetfed letterpress systems. Some of these publications, such as National Geographic Magazine, continued with letterpress color all the way up to the late 1970s.

By the late 1950s, offset lithography and electronic color separations had begun their rise as the foremost method of reproducing high quality, inexpensive printed color images. Although the personal computer (IBM, 1981), digital camera (Fuji, 1987) and digital printing (Indigo, 1993) have brought color reproduction to new levels of high quality and low cost—especially for small quantities—the breakthroughs of seventy years ago remain by far the dominant methods of color reproduction today.

Adrian Frutiger (1928–2015): Univers and OCR-B

Posted in People in Media History, Phototypesetting, Print Media, Typography with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on December 21, 2015 by multimediaman
Adrian Frutiger: May 24, 1928 – September 10, 2015

Adrian Frutiger: May 24, 1928 – September 10, 2015

Adrian Frutiger died on September 10, 2015 at the age of 87. He was one of the most important type designers of his generation, having created some 40 fonts, many of them still widely used today. He was also a teacher, author and specialist in the language of graphic expression and—since his career spanned metal, photomechanical and electronic type technologies—Frutiger became an important figure in the transition from the analog to the digital eras of print communications.

Frutiger was born on May 24, 1928 in the town of Interseen, near Interlaken and about 60 kilometers southeast of the city of Bern, Switzerland. His father was a weaver. As a youth, Adrian showed an interest in handwriting and lettering. He was encouraged by his family and secondary school teachers to pursue an apprenticeship rather than a fine arts career.

Adrian Frutiger around the time of his apprenticeship

Adrian Frutiger around the time of his apprenticeship

At age 16, Adrian obtained a four-year apprenticeship as a metal type compositor with the printer Otto Schlaeffli in Interlaken. He also took classes in drawing and woodcuts at a business school in the vicinity of Bern. In 1949, Frutiger transferred to the School of Applied Arts in Zürich, where he concentrated on calligraphy. In 1951, he created a brochure for his dissertation entitled, “The Development of the Latin Alphabet” that was illustrated with his own woodcuts.

It was during his years in Zürich that Adrian worked on sketches for what would later become the typeface Univers, one of the most important contributions to post-war type design. In 1952, following his graduation, Frutiger moved to Paris and joined the foundry Deberny & Peignot as a type designer.

During his early work with the French type house, Frutiger was engaged in the conversion of existing metal type designs for the newly emerging phototypesetting technologies. He also designed several new typefaces— Président, Méridien, and Ondine—in the early 1950s.

San serif and Swiss typography

San serif type is a product of the twentieth century. Also known as grotesque (or grotesk), san serif fonts emerged with commercial advertising, especially signage. The original san serif designs (beginning in 1898) possessed qualities—lack of lower case letters, lack of italics, the inclusion of condensed or extended widths and equivalent cap and ascender heights—that seemingly violated the rules of typographic tradition. As such, these early san serif designs were often considered too clumsy and inelegant for the professional type houses and their clients.

Rudolf Koch, Kabel, 1927

Rudolf Koch, Kabel, 1927

Paul Renner, Futura, 1927

Paul Renner, Futura, 1927

Eric Gill, Gill Sans, 1927

Eric Gill, Gill Sans, 1927

Along with the modern art and design movements of the early twentieth century, a reconsideration of the largely experimental work of the first generation of sans serif types began in the 1920s. Fonts such as Futura, Kabel and Gill Sans incorporated some of the theoretical concepts of the Bauhaus and DeStijl movements and pushed sans serif to new spheres of respectability.

However, these fonts—which are still used today—did not succeed in elevating san serif beyond headline usage and banner advertising and into broader application. Sans serif type remained something of an oddity and not yet accepted by the traditional foundry industry as viable in terms of either style or legibility.

In the 1930s, especially within the European countries that fell to dictatorship prior to and during World War II, there was a backlash against modernist conceptions. Sans serif type came under attack, was derided as “degenerate” and banned in some instances. Exceptions to this trend were in the US, where the use of grotesque types was increasing, and Switzerland, where the minimalist typographic ideas of the Bauhaus were brought by designers who had fled the countries ruled by the Nazis.

The Bauhaus School, founded in 1919 in Weimar, Germany, was dedicated to the expansion of the modernist esthetic

The Bauhaus School, founded in 1919 in Weimar, Germany, was dedicated to the expansion of the modernist esthetic

After the war, interest in sans serif type design was renewed as a symbol of modernism and a break from the first four decades of the century. By the late 1950s, the most successful period of san serif type opened up and the epicenter of this change emerged in Switzerland, signified by the creation of Helvetica (1957) by Eduard Hoffmann and Max Miedinger of the Haas Type Foundry in Münchenstein.

It was the nexus of the creative drive to design the definitively “modern” typeface and the possibilities opened up by the displacement of metal type with phototypesetting that brought san serif from a niche font into global preeminence.

Frutiger’s Univers

This was the cultural environment that influenced Adrian Frutiger as he set about his work on a new typeface as a Swiss trained type designer at a French foundry. As Frutiger explained in a 1999 interview with Eye Magazine, “When I came to Deberny & Peignot in Paris, Futura (though it was called Europe there) was the most important font in lead typesetting. Then one day the question was raised of a grotesque for the Lumitype-Photon [the first phototypesetting system]. …

“I asked him [Peignot] if I might offer an alternative. And within ten days I constructed an entire font system. When I was with Käch I had already designed a thin, normal, semi-bold and italic Grotesque with modulated stroke weights. This was the precursor of Univers. … When Peignot saw it he almost jumped in the air: ‘Good heavens, Adrian, that’s the future!’ ”

An early diagram of Frutiger’s Univers in 1955 shows the original name “Monde”

An early diagram of Frutiger’s Univers in 1955 shows the original name “Monde”

Final diagram of Frutiger’s 21 styles of Univers in 1955

Final diagram of Frutiger’s 21 styles of Univers in 1955

Originally calling his type design “Monde” (French for “world”), Frutiger’s innovation was that he designed 21 variations of Univers from the beginning; for the first time in the history of typography a complete set of typefaces were planned precisely as a coherent system. He also gave the styles and weights a numbering scheme beginning with Univers 55. The different weights (extended, condensed, ultra condensed, etc.) were numbered in increments of ten, i.e. 45, 65, 75, 85 and styles with the same line thickness were numbered in single digit increments (italics were the even numbers), i.e. 53, 56, 57, 58, 59, etc.

Univers was released by Deberny & Peignot in 1957 and it was quickly embraced internationally for both text and display type purposes. Throughout the 1960s and 70s, like Helvetica, it was widely used for corporate identity (GE, Lufthansa, Deutsche Bank). It was the official promotional font of the 1972 Munich Olympic Games.

Frutiger explained the significance of his creation in the interview with Eye Magazine, “It happened to be the time when the big advertising agencies were being set up, they set their heart on having this diverse system. This is how the big bang occurred and Univers conquered the world. But I don’t want to claim the glory. It was simply the time, the surroundings, the country, the invention, the postwar period and my studies during the war. Everything led towards it. It could not have happened any other way.”

Computers and digital typography

Had Adrian Frutiger retired at the age of 29 after designing Univers, he would have already made an indelible contribution to the evolution of typography. However, his work was by no means complete. By 1962, Frutiger had established his own graphic design studio with Bruno Pfaffli and Andre Gurtler in Arcueil near Paris. This firm designed posters, catalogs and identity systems for major museums and corporations in France.

Throughout the 1960s, Frutiger continued to design new typefaces for the phototypesetting industry such as Lumitype, Monotype, Linotype and Stempel AG. Among his most well-known later san serif designs were Frutiger, Serifa and Avenir. Frutiger’s font systems can be seen to this day on the signage at Orly and Charles de Gaulle airports and the Paris Metro.

The penetration of computers and information systems into the printing and publishing process were well underway by the 1960s. In 1961, thirteen computer and typewriter manufacturers founded the European Computer Manufacturers Association (ECMA) based in Geneva. A top priority of the EMCA was to create an international standard for optical character recognition (OCR)—a system for capturing the image of printed information and numbers and converting them into electronic data—especially for the banking industry.

By 1968, OCR-A was developed in the US by American Type Founders—a trust of 23 American type foundries—and it was later adopted by the American National Standards Institute. This was the first practically adopted standard mono-spaced font that could be read by both machines and the human optical system.

However, in Europe the ECMA wanted a font that could be used as an international standard such that it accommodated the requirements of all typographic considerations and computerized scanning technologies all over the world. Among the issues, for example, were the treatment of the British pound symbol (£) and the Dutch IJ and French oe (œ) ligatures. Other technical considerations included the ability to integrate OCR standards with typewriter and letterpress fonts in addition to the latest phototypesetting systems.

Comparison of OCR-A (1968) with Frutiger’s OCR-B (1973)

Comparison of OCR-A (1968) with Frutiger’s OCR-B (1973)

In 1963, Adrian Frutiger was approached by representatives of the ECMA and asked to design OCR-B as an international standard with a non-stylized alphabet that was also esthetically pleasing to the human eye. Over the next five years, Frutiger showed the exceptional ability to learn the complicated technical requirements of the engineers: the grid systems of the different readers, the strict spacing requirements between characters and the special shapes needed to make one letter or number optically distinguishable from another.

In 1973, after multiple revisions and extensive testing, Adrian Frutiger’s OCR-B was adopted as an international standard. Today, the font can be most commonly found on UPC barcodes, ISBN barcodes, government issued ID cards and passports. Frutiger’s OCR-B font will no doubt live on into the distant future—alongside various 2D barcode systems—as one of the primary means of translating analog information into digital data and back again.

Frutigers Sign and Symbols 1989

Frutiger’s 1989 English translation of “Signs and Symbols: Their Design and Meaning”

Adrian Frutiger’s type design career extended well into the era of desktop publishing, PostScript fonts and the Internet age. In 1989, Frutiger published the English translation of Signs and Symbols: Their Design and Meaning a theoretical and retrospective study of the two-dimensional expression of graphic drawing with typography among its most advanced forms. For someone who spent his life working on the nearly imperceptible detail of type and graphic design, Frutiger exhibited an exceptional grasp of the historical and social sources of man’s urge toward pictographic representation and communication.

As an example, Frutiger wrote in the introduction to his book, “For twentieth century humans, it is difficult to imagine a void, a chaos, because they have learned that a kind of order appears to prevail in both the infinitely small and the infinitely large.  The understanding that there is no element of chance around or in us, but that all things, both mind and matter, follow an ordered pattern, supports the argument that even the simplest blot or scribble cannot exist by pure chance or without significance, but rather that the viewer does not clearly recognize the causes, origins, and occasion of such a ‘drawing’.”

Hermann Zapf (1918–2015): Digital typography

Posted in Digital Media, People in Media History, Phototypesetting, Typography with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , on September 30, 2015 by multimediaman
Hermann Zapf: November 8, 1918 – June 4, 2015

Hermann Zapf: November 8, 1918 – June 4, 2015

On Friday, June 12, Apple released its San Francisco system font for OSX, iOS and watchOS. Largely overlooked amid the media coverage of other Apple product announcements, the introduction of San Francisco was a noteworthy technical event.

San Francisco is a neo-grotesk, sans serif and Pan European typeface with characters in Latin as well as Cyrillic and Greek scripts. It is significant because it is the first font to be designed specifically for all of Apple’s display technologies. Important variations have been introduced into San Francisco to optimize its readability on Apple desktop, notebook, TV, mobile and watch devices.

It is also the first font designed by Apple in two decades. San Francisco extends Apple’s association with typographic innovation that began in the mid-1980s with desktop publishing. From a broader historical perspective, Apple’s new font confirms of the ideas developed more than fifty years ago by renowned calligrapher and type designer Hermann Zapf. Sadly, Zapf died at the age of 96 on June 4, 2015 just one week before Apple’s San Francisco announcement.

Hermann Zapf’s contributions to typography are extensive and astonishing. He designed more than 200 typefaces—the popular Palatino (1948), Optima (1952), Zapf Dingbats (1978) and Zapf Chancery (1979) among them—including fonts in Arabic, Pan-Nigerian, Sequoia and Cherokee. Meanwhile, Zapf’s exceptional calligraphic skills were such that he famously penned the Preamble of the Charter of the United Nations in four languages for the New York Pierpont Morgan Library in 1960.

Preamble of the charter of The United Nations

Zapf’s calligraphic skills were called upon for the republication of the Preamble of the UN Charter in 1960 for the Pierpont Morgan Library in New York City.

While he made many extraordinary creative accomplishments—far too many to list here—Hermann Zapf’s greatest legacy is the way he thought about type and its relationship to technology as a whole. Herman Zapf was among the first and perhaps the most important typographers to theorize about the need for new forms of type driven by computer and digital technologies.

Early life

Hermann Zapf was born in Nuremburg on November 8, 1918 during the turbulent times at the end of World War I. As he wrote later in life, “On the day I was born, a workers’ and soldiers’ council took political control of the city. Munich and Berlin were rocked by revolution. The war ended, and the Republic was declared in Berlin on 9 November 1918. The next day Kaiser Wilhelm fled to Holland.”

At school, Hermann took an interest in technical subjects. He spent time in the library reading scientific journals and at home, along with his older brother, experimenting with electronics. He also tried hand lettering and created his own alphabets.

Hermann left school in 1933 with the intention of becoming an engineer. However, economic crisis and upheaval in Germany—including the temporary political detention of his father in March 1933 at the prison camp in Dachau—prevented him from pursuing his plans.

Apprentice years

Barred from attending the Ohm Technical Institute in Nuremberg for political reasons, Hermann sought an apprenticeship in lithography. He was hired in February 1934 to a four-year apprenticeship as a photo retoucher by Karl Ulrich and Company.

In 1935, after reading books by Rudolf Koch and Edward Johnson on lettering and illuminating techniques, Hermann taught himself calligraphy. When management saw the quality of Hermann’s lettering, the Ulrich firm began to assign him work outside of his retouching apprenticeship.

Hermann refused to take the test at his father’s insistence on the grounds that the training had been interrupted by many unrelated tasks. He never received his journeyman’s certificate and left Nuremburg for Frankfurt to find work.

Zapf’s Gilgengart designed originally in 1938

Zapf’s Gilgengart designed originally in 1938

Zapf started his career in type design at the age of 20 after he was employed at the Fürsteneck Workshop House, a printing establishment run by Paul Koch, the son of Rudolf Koch. As he later explained, “It was through the print historian Gustav Mori that I first came into contact with the D. Stempel AG type foundry and Linotype GmbH in Frankfurt. It was for them that I designed my first printed type in 1938, a fraktur type called ‘Gilgengart’.”

War years

Hermann Zapf was conscripted in 1939 and called up to serve in the German army near the town of Pirmasens on the French border. After a few weeks, he developed heart trouble and was transferred from the hard labor of shovel work to the writing room where he composed camp reports and certificates.

When World War II started, Hermann was dismissed for health reasons. In April 1942 he was called up again, this time for the artillery. Hermann was quickly reassigned to the cartographic unit where he became well-known for his exceptional map drawing skills. He was the youngest cartographer in the German army through the end of the war.

An example of calligraphy from the sketchbook that Hermann Zapf kept during World War II.

An example of calligraphy from the sketchbook that Hermann Zapf kept during World War II.

Zapf was captured after the war by the French and held in a field hospital in Tübingen. As he recounted, “I was treated very well and they even let me keep my drawing instruments. They had a great deal of respect for me as an ‘artiste’ … Since I was in very poor health, the French sent me home just four weeks after the end of the war. I first went back to my parents in my home town of Nuremberg, which had suffered terrible damage.”

Post-war years

In the years following the war, Hermann taught and gave lessons in calligraphy in Nuremberg. In 1947, he returned to Frankfurt and took a position with the Stempel AG foundry with little qualification other than his sketch books from the war years.

From 1948 to 1950, while he worked at Stempel on typography designs for metal punch cutting, he developed a specialization in book design. Hermann also continued to teach calligraphy twice a week at the Arts and Crafts School in Offenbach.

Zapf’s Palatino (1948) and Optima (1952) fonts

Zapf’s Palatino (1948) and Optima (1952) fonts

It was during these years, that Zapf designed Palatino and Optima. Working closely with the punch cutter August Rosenberg, Hermann design Palatino and named it after the 16th century Italian master of calligraphy Giambattista Palatino. In the Palatino face, Zapf attempted to emulate the forms of the great humanist typographers of the Renaissance.

Optima, on the other hand, expressed more directly the genius of Zapf’s vision and foreshadowed his later contributions. Optima can be described as a hybrid serif-and-sans serif typeface because it blends features of both: serif-less thick and thin strokes with subtle swelling at the terminals that suggest serifs. Zapf designed Optima during a visit to Italy in 1950 when he examined inscriptions at the Basilica di Santa Croce in Florence. It is remarkably modern, yet clearly derived from the Roman monumental capital model.

By the time Optima was released commercially by Stempel AG in 1958, the industry had begun to move away from metal casting methods and into phototypesetting. As many of his most successful fonts were reworked for the new methods, Zapf recognized—perhaps before and more profoundly than most—that phototypesetting was a transitional technology on the path from analog to an entirely new digital typography.

Digital typography

To grasp the significance of Zapf’s work, it is important to understand that, although “cold” photo type was an advance over “hot” metal type, both are analog technologies, i.e. they require the transfer of “master” shapes from manually engraved punches or hand drawn outlines to final production type by way of molds or photomechanical processes.

Due to the inherent limitations of metal and photomechanical media, analog type masters often contain design compromises. Additionally, the reproduction from one master generation to the next has variations and inconsistencies connected with the craftsmanship of punch cutting or outline drawing.

With digital type, the character shapes exist as electronic files that “describe” fonts in mathematical vector outlines or in raster images plotted on an XY coordinate grid. With computer font data, typefaces have many nuances and features that could never be rendered in metal or photo type. Meanwhile, digital font masters can be copied precisely without any quality degradation from one generation to the next.

Hermann Zapf in 1960

Hermann Zapf in 1960

From the earliest days of computers, Hermann Zapf began advocating for the advancement of digital typography. He argued that type designers needed to take advantage of the possibilities opened up by the new technologies and needed to create types that reflected the age. Zapf also combined knowledge of the rules of good type design with a recognition that fonts needed to be created specifically for electronic displays (at that time CRT-based monitors and televisions).

In 1959, at the age of 41, Zapf wrote in an industry journal, “It is necessary to combine the purpose, the simplicity and the beauty of the types, created as an expression of contemporary industrial society, into one harmonious whole. We should not seek this expression in imitations of the Middle Ages or in revivals of nineteenth century material., as sometimes seems the trend; the question for us is satisfying tomorrow’s requirements and creating types that are a real expression of our time but also represent a logical continuation of the typographic tradition of the western world.”

Warm reception in the US

 Despite a very cold response in Germany—his ideas about computerized type were rejected as “unrealistic” by the Technical University in Darmstadt where he was a lecturer and by leading printing industry representatives—Hermann persevered. Beginning in the early 1960s, Zapf delivered a series of lectures in the US that were met with enthusiasm.

For example, a talk he delivered at Harvard University in October 1964 became so popular that it led to an offer for a professorship at the University of Texas in Austin. The governor even also made Hermann an “Honorary Citizen of the State of Texas.” In the end, Zapf turned down the opportunity due to family obligations in Germany.

Among his many digital accomplishments are the following:

  • Rudolf Hell

    Rudolf Hell

    When digital typography was born in 1964 with the Digiset system of Rudolf Hell, Hermann Zapf was involved. By the early 1970s, Zapf created some of the first fonts designed specifically for any digital system: Marconi, Edison, and Aurelia.

  • In 1976, Hermann was asked to head a professorship in typographic computer programming at Rochester Institute of Technology (RIT) in Rochester, New York, the first of its kind in the world. Zapf taught at RIT for ten years and was able to develop his conceptions in collaboration with computer scientists and representatives of IBM and Xerox.
  • With Aaron Burns

    With Aaron Burns

    In 1977, Zapf partnered with graphic designers Herb Lubalin and Aaron Burns and founded Design Processing International, Inc. (DPI) in New York City. The firm developed software with menu-driven typesetting features that could be used by non-professionals. The DPI software was focused on automating hyphenation and justification as opposed to the style of type design.

  • In 1979, Hermann began a collaboration with Professor Donald Knuth of Stanford University to develop a font that was adaptable for mathematical formulae and symbols.
  • With Peter Karnow

    With Peter Karnow

    In the 1990s, Hermann Zapf continued to focus on the development of professional typesetting algorithms with his “hz -program” in collaboration with Peter Karow of the font company URW. Eventually the Zapf composition engine was incorporated by Adobe Systems into the InDesign desktop publishing software.

Zapf’s legacy

Hermann Zapf actively participated—into his 70s and 80s—in some of the most important developments in type technology of the past fifty years. This was no accident. He possessed both a deep knowledge of the techniques and forms of type history and a unique appreciation for the impact of information technologies on the creation and consumption of the written word.

In 1971, Zapf gave a lecture in Stockholm called “The Electronic Screen and the Book” where he said, “The problem of legibility is as old as the alphabet, for the identification of a letterform is the basis of its practical use. … To produce a clear, readable text that is pleasing to the eye and well arranged has been the primary goal of typography in all the past centuries. With a text made visible on a CRT screen, new factors for legibility are created.”

More than 40 years before the Apple design team set out to create a font that is legible on multiple computer screens, the typography visionary Hermann Zapf was theorizing about the very same questions.

John Crosfield (1915 – 2012): Printing press automation

Posted in Business systems, People in Media History, Phototypesetting, Print Media, Typography with tags , , , , , , , , , , , on May 31, 2015 by multimediaman
John Crosfield

John Fothergill Crosfield: October 22, 1915 – March 25, 2012

Today’s digital and mobile wireless technologies are in a constant state of flux. As we pass the midpoint of 2015, the human computer interface is being once again transformed with haptic technology—tactile feedback from a device such as force or vibration.

If you have felt vibration in response to a touch function on your smartphone, then you have experienced haptics. What was until recently available only to virtual reality enthusiasts and gamers, is now a feature of every smartphone and tablet.

Technical evolution has been so fast that it is hard to believe smartphones have been around for less than eight years and the tablet is just a little over three years old. As we try to keep up with the pace of change, it is easy to miss the fact that the electronics revolution has been underway for more than a century and digital electronics represents less than half of that time period.

Electronic technology can be divided into two basic forms: analog and digital. Long before there were microprocessors and memory chips that exchange all information, data, code, signals, etc. in a series of zeroes and ones, there were analog electronics such as resistors, capacitors, inductors, diodes and transistors.

The difference between a clock with hour, minute and second hands rotating around the face and the numerals on an Light Emitting Diode (LED) clock display is a simple illustration of analogue vs digital technology.

John Crosfield’s contributions to printing and the graphic arts spanned both analogue and digital electronics. His analogue systems were developed in the late 1940s and became dominant in the industry throughout the 1950s. When the first computers were introduced in the 1960s, Crosfield pioneered digital electronics and became a major worldwide provider of equipment into the 1960s and mid-70s.

Crosfield’s youth

Young John Crosfield

Young John F. Crosfield

John Fothergill Crosfield was born into a well-off family. He was the third child and second son of prominent English Quakers. Born on October 22, 1915 in Hampstead, London—a community known for its intellectual, liberal, artistic, musical and literary associations—John had five siblings.

John’s father, Bertram Fothergill Crosfield, was managing director and co-proprietor of the News Chronical and The Star, both liberal daily newspapers in London. Bertram was also leader of several Hampstead organizations. John’s mother, Eleanor Cadbury, was the daughter of the famous chocolate maker and leading Quaker, George Cadbury. Eleanor was well-known independently of her father and was elected as a Liberal to Bucks County Council.

John showed an early interest in building things. As a boy, he was often busy in the family workshop making boats, steam engines and other mechanical devices. He once built a cannon and tested it on the garage door. The projectile went through the door and damaged his father’s Daimler. He was fond of trains and, with the assistance of a childhood friend, built an O gauge model railroad on the property of his school grounds.

At age 13 John was enrolled in Leighton Park School, a Quaker establishment. He enjoyed studying physics and math and decided he wanted to pursue engineering at college. Following in his father’s footsteps, John enrolled at Trinity College Cambridge. He designed and built gliders and other flying machinery such as a winch launcher in his spare time. Although he had many hobbies, John was an exceptional student and put most of his time into his studies.

John graduated from Cambridge in 1936 and went to Munich, Germany to improve his language skills. He came into contact with anti-Semitism and Nazi propaganda and was horrified by Hitler’s methods. Upon his return to England, John’s accounts of the treatment of political prisoners in Germany were met with disbelief.

World War II

John Crosfield was a member of a generation of engineers whose formative experiences were made in World War II. Much of the technology advancements that were deployed throughout industry in the post war period originated in the struggle by the warring countries for military supremacy.

After he left Cambridge, Crosfield took a student-apprentice engineering position with British Thomson-Hudson (BTH), a heavy industry firm based in Warwickshire. BTH was founded as a subsidiary of the US-based General Electric Company (GE) and specialized in steam turbines. In 1938, he left BTH and went to work at the Stockholm facility of ASEA, a Swedish version of BTH and GE. When the war began in 1939, John made his way back to England and planned to join the Navy.

Crosfield used some connections at ASEA to get an assignment by the Admiralty to the Mine Design Department. It was here that Crosfield’s electronic genius would begin to be expressed. He worked on a magnetic mine project that could detect German boats near British harbors.

Crosfield also designed and built a prototype of an acoustic mine that could pick up on the sound of the propeller of wooden German E-boats. The acoustic mine became a success with 200 being deployed in the Baltic Sea and sinking 47 enemy vessels. Crosfield and his colleagues later worked on the development of both acoustic and subsonic mines. He got involved in the production process and in 1944 Crosfield’s inventions proved extremely effective in major battles at the Straits of Dover and the Western Approaches.

Crosfield Electronics Limited & the Autotron

1949 advertisement for the Crosfield Autotron, the first automated electronic register control system

1949 advertisement for the Crosfield Autotron, the first automated electronic register control system

After the war, John Crosfield decided—after having learned from his experience at ASEA that some of the projects that he had worked on would never be funded—to start his own business. In 1947, he set up a lab in Hampstead and began working on new projects. He later recalled that in 1945, while he was in charge of electronics research for the Admiralty, he was approached by a printing industry representative about the problem of color registration on high speed rotogravure magazine presses. There was a need for an automated system to align all the process colors in the printed page to improve quality and reduce press waste.

With about £2,000 of his own money and another £2,500 borrowed from family members, Crosfield set out to design an electronic and automated registration system for color printing. After 18 months of hard work, the “Autotron” was tested as a prototype on the production of Women’s Weekly at Amalgamated Press in London. Prior to the Autotron, a magazine production run would often waste 25-30% of the impressions using manual controls. Crosfield’s automatic register system brought the waste figures down to 4-5%.

The Autotron consisted of a scanning heads mounted on each printing unit and a control cubicle that was located away from the press. The scanning heads picked up “register marks”—unobtrusive symbols on the printed page that were hidden from view—to regulate the movement of the printed image from unit to unit with an accuracy of one thousandth (1/1000) of an inch.

Word about the Autotron travelled quickly in the printing industry and Crosfield was soon taking prepaid orders from companies in Britain. An opportunity to show the system at the British Industries Fair in 1949 made Autotron an international phenomenon and orders were quickly being placed from printers in countries around the world.

Pressroom automation

The success of the Autotron encouraged John Crosfield to invest in further research in pressroom automation for gravure magazine printing and other presses such as offset newspaper and packaging print.

In Recollections of Crosfield Electronics, 1947 to 1975, John Crosfield wrote, “My philosophy was to concentrate our research on new electronic aids for the printing industry, in order to maximize the use of our electronic ‘know how’ on the one hand and our sales contacts in the printing industry on the other. Eventually we had the greatest range of electronic equipment for the printing industry of any company in the world.”

In the 1950s, Crosfield developed a suite of successful automation products for the industry:

  • Secatron: an optical system for packaging printers that kept images in the right position on the cardboard so they would look right on the finished carton.
  • Webatron: a system similar to Autotron for high speed presses that regulated the movement of paper through the press for delivery to folders and sheeters.
  • Trakatron: a system for regulating print on web-fed cellophane and wax paper presses.
  • Idotron: a system for measuring ink density on a web press to keep color reproduction consistent during press runs.
  • Viscomex: an ink viscosity control system that added solvents to the ink automatically as needed as a result of evaporation.
  • Flying Paster: an automatic splicing mechanism that enabled production to go from one roll of paper to the other without slowing down or stopping the press.
Crosfield Idotron measured and adjusted ink density inline on a high speed rotogravure press

Crosfield Idotron measured and adjusted ink density inline on a high speed rotogravure press

Many of these systems relied upon photo-electric cells to detect movement of paper or printed images on the paper. Crosfield’s expertise in the area of optical sensors lead him to several other important breakthroughs in the composition and preparatory stages of print production. These developments took place in an environment of intense global competition with companies in Europe, the US and Middle East.

Phototypesetting and color scanning

The Crosfield Lumitype 450 was the first phototypesetting system designed and built in Europe. It was licensed to Crosfield by the US based Photon.

The Crosfield Lumitype 450 was the first phototypesetting system designed and built in Europe. It was licensed to Crosfield by the US based Photon.

By the 1960s, the printing industry had been moving rapidly into offset lithography. A major factor in this regard was the displacement of hot metal typesetting with cold type, i.e. phototypesetting systems. While Crosfield was not the inventor of the first phototypesetter, his company was a designer and builder of the Lumitype 540 under patents from the original inventors at Photon in the US. This relationship would continue through the development of the high speed Photon 713 in 1965, which was the first computer controlled phototypesetting system.

Among the greatest successes of Crosfield Electronics, Ltd. was its color scanning systems. The Crosfield Scanatron—which was developed in 1958—was the first scanning technology that could make color corrections and eliminate the time-consuming work of retouchers.

The Crosfield Magnascan was the first color scanning device that could retouch color electronically.

The Crosfield Magnascan was the first color scanning device that could retouch color electronically.

Crosfield continued with advancements in color scanning throughout the 1960s. The Magnascan was introduced in 1969 and it was capable of scanning a color transparency. It also had the software capability to adjust the size, form, color and hue such that the printed image was of the finest quality anywhere.

While the Magnascan was an international success, it was developed at the same time as Rudolf Hell’s Chromograph. Recognizing that a battle over who invented and patented the drum scanner first, the two men signed an agreement giving cross licenses for a modest royalty. Crosfield and Hell remained good friends from that point forward.

Impact of desktop computing

John Crosfield receiving the gold medal of the Institute of Printing in 1973

John Crosfield receiving the gold medal of the Institute of Printing in 1973

In addition to accomplishments in the graphic arts, Crosfield Electronics Limited (CEL). also developed computerized business systems and—leveraging the expertise in optical devices—invented a very successful automated bank note sorting and processing technology.

While the company was very successful in the printing market, an attempt to take CEL public in 1974 was made during a collapse of the stock exchange and Crosfield ended up selling his business to De La Rue. The color scanning segment of his business—the most profitable aspect of CEL—was sold by De La Rue in 1989 to a joint venture of Fuji and DuPont called Fujifilm Electronics Imaging.

With the introduction of the desktop PC—and especially the desktop publishing system associated with the Apple Macintosh computer in 1985 and shortly thereafter desktop flatbed scanners—Crosfield’s era graphic arts electronics had come to a close.

John Crosfield received many accolades for his contributions to the printing industry over nearly five decades, including four United Kingdom Queen’s Awards and the gold medal of the Institute of Printing in 1973. He remained a board member of De La Rue until 1985 and thereafter was Honorary President of CEL. A very modest, personable and generous man, John Crosfield died on March 25, 2012 at his home in Hampstead at age 96.

Linn Boyd Benton: 1844 – 1932

Posted in People in Media History, Typography with tags , , , , , , on September 20, 2014 by multimediaman

Linn Boyd Benton

Linn Boyd Benton is not a widely known figure in the history of printing. This is an odd fact given that he is responsible for one of the most important technical achievements of the late nineteenth century: the invention of the pantographic engraver of type punches. Without Benton’s contribution, the completion of the industrialization of the printing process—and the success of Mergenthaler’s Linotype casting machine—would not have been possible.

Linn Boyd Benton was born on May 13, 1844 in Little Falls, New York, a town about 75 miles east of Syracuse. His father, Charles Swan Benton, was a lawyer and the founder-editor of the Mohawk Courier & Little Falls Gazette. In 1840, the elder Benton was elected as US Representative of the 17th District of New York State.

It has been said that Linn Boyd was forced to rely upon himself at an early age because his mother, Emeline Fuller of Little Falls, died when he was just three years old. That his father moved the family frequently also contributed to Linn Boyd’s character development.

After Charles remarried, he relocated the family to Milwaukee, Wisconsin where he became part owner and editor of the Milwaukee Daily News. At age eleven, Linn Boyd had his first experience with typography in the composing room of his father’s newspaper.

Boyd—as he was called—attended Galesville College, in Galesville, Wisconsin and studied advanced subjects for two years with a private tutor in La Crosse, Wisconsin. He developed his mechanical aptitude while working summer jobs as a tombstone cutter and as a watch repairman for a jeweler in La Crosse.

At 22 years old, Boyd was hired by a friend of his father’s as a bookkeeper for a Milwaukee type foundry. When the company went bankrupt during the financial panic of 1873, Boyd bought the Northwestern Type Foundry along with a partner and ran the manufacturing operations of the business. This was the beginning of Linn Boyd Benton’s long career in typography.

After several name and partnership changes, Boyd remained operations director of Benton, Waldo & Company and, by the early 1880s, the firm was manufacturing and selling metal type in the highly competitive industry. It was during this time that Benton began developing his skills as an inventor and typographic innovator.

Self-spacing type

By the 1880s, the problem of standardized type size measurement had become the scourge of the printing industry. Most printing establishments were forced to maintain relationships with a single type foundry due to the fact that type sizes, widths, base alignment and even metal alloy composition were not common.

With the industrial development of printing machinery long established—the launching of daily newspapers and installation of large steam-powered rotary web presses taking place everywhere—the lack of advanced methods of type specification, manufacture and composition were holding the industry back.


Cover of Benton’s Self Spacing Type Specimen Book

Since the early 1700s efforts had been mounted in Europe and America to come up with a standard for measuring type. The “pica and point” system finally emerged after a long conflict over proprietary interests. On September 17, 1886 the American System of Interchangeable Type Bodies was formally adopted at a meeting of the United States Type Founder’s Association in Niagara, New York.

Within this environment, Linn Boyd Benton began working on methods that would change the way type was specified and handled. The problem facing compositors was that justifying a line of type required the manual arrangement of individual characters and spacers with a “trial and error” working method. According to Benton and others, this antiquated process unnecessarily lengthened composition time and there had to be a means of automating it.

The measuring system of “12 points to a pica and 6 picas to an inch” that we use today was initially developed as a vertical system of type height. Benton’s innovation was that the width should also be measured such that the typography followed “the point system both ways.” In 1883, Benton received US Patent 290,201 for Self Spacing Type that, according to the promotional literature, could “increase composition speeds by 25%.”

The Benton, Waldo & Company’s Self Spacing Type styles were designed primarily for the newspaper industry where compositor speed was the most important issue. For some typographers, the horizontal distortion of characters and spaces required to make Benton’s system work meant that the visual appearance of the type was unacceptable; they argued it was hard to read.

Nonetheless, Benton’s work on self-spacing type was a breakthrough and the production and marketing of its typefaces brought him straight into a much more historically significant technological advancement for the industry.

Benton’s pantographic punch cutting machine

To grasp the significance of Benton’s invention of the pantographic engraver, it is important to understand the components and process of metal typesetting. Gutenberg’s accomplishment was the invention of the hand-held mold for typecasting. It created the mass production of individual metal characters that could be assembled into lines and pages of type, effectively displacing the handwriting by scribes.

There are two preliminary steps required in the production of the type mold into which the molten metal is poured: the punch and the matrix. The punch is a steel relief form of the letter that is driven by a hammer into a piece of copper that creates the cavity of the matrix. The matrix is then placed into the mold assembly where hot metal is poured forming the finished piece of type that will be inked and printed upon.

Punch, matrix and finished type character

Punch, matrix and finished type character

Prior to Benton, punch cutting was a manual process that required a highly skilled craftsman to design and engrave the characters into a tapered piece of steel that was two to three inches long. Every character of every size had to be punch cut; these were the “masters” of the font from which many matrices could be produced. If a punch was damaged or broken, it would have to be remade by hand and it was likely that there would be slight differences from the one to the other.

Punch cutting was clearly the most difficult job in the production of type. It was not uncommon for a skilled punch cutter to take an entire day to make one punch; each punch required the continuous use of a magnifying glass, significant manual dexterity and an esthetic sensibility.

Benton’s Self Spacing Type required the cutting of more than 3,000 punches and skilled punch cutters were in short supply. In an effort to solve this problem, Linn Boyd Benton employed the pantograph—a mechanical device that uses parallelograms to trace an image on one surface and reproduce that image precisely on another surface—in the type production process.

Although Benton was not the first person to employ the pantographic principle in type making, he was the first to obtain a patent for the machine that would ultimately be used for cutting steel punches. The device went through several iterations and it has been established that the first machine did not cut punches but actually was used to engrave the metal letters themselves. However, Benton’s third pantographic engraver that was granted US Patent 332,990 was designed specifically for punch cutting.

Patent for Benton’s pantographic punch cutting machine

Patent for Benton’s pantographic punch cutting machine

Coincidentally, while Benton was solving problems with self-spacing type manufacturing, Ottmar Mergenthaler was developing a solution for the mechanical composition of type, one complete line at a time. With the investment of powerful newspaper publishing interests behind him, Mergenthaler invented the Linotype machine in 1886 and by 1888 there were hundreds of these machines on order.

Mergenthaler’s Linotype breakthrough begged for a method of mass matrix production on a scale that had never before existed. As explained by Benton’s publicist Henry Lewis Bullen, “Here was a machine; but no adequate means of supplying it with matrices had been devised. The rapid production of matrices required the rapid production of punches. … In 1890 the Linotype company had six or seven punch cutters in its employ and these could do no more than keep up supply of matrices for about two hundred machines. Not in all the world could enough steel punch cutters be found to furnish an adequate supply of matrices, without which the machines were as useless and unsalable as a gun where powder is unprocurable.”

By chance, Benton’s partner R.V. Waldo was on a self-spacing type sales visit at New York Tribune where Mergenthaler’s machine was pioneered. Once the topic of Benton’s pantograph came up between Waldo and Mergenthaler’s representatives it was just a matter of time before the Linotype matrix production dilemma would be solved. On February 13, 1889, the first Benton punch-cutting machine was leased to the Mergenthaler Printing Company.

Thus, the combined accomplishments of Benton and Mergenthaler terminated the era of hand crafted type production and enabled this most important aspect of print technology to completely enter the industrial age.

Later years

Linn Boyd Benton would go on to make many other technical contributions to the printing and typographic industries: combination fractions (1895), a type dressing machine (1901), an automatic type-caster (1907), and a lining device for engraving matrices of shaded letters (1913). Benton also played an important role with Theodore Lowe De Vinne in the design of the Century Roman typeface, an innovation in type design at the beginning of the twentieth century.

In 1892, Benton, Waldo & Company merged with 23 other type houses and formed the American Type Founders Company with headquarters in Elizabeth, NJ. At the time it represented 85% of all type manufactured in the US and would dominate the industry into the 1940s.

Morris Fuller Benton, Linn Boyd’s only son who was born in Milwaukee in 1872, would join the ATF organization at age 24 after graduating from Cornell with an engineering degree. Morris would go on to be a major contributor to the type business and a force of his own in printing history completing 221 typeface designs—including Cheltenham, Hobo, Broadway and Franklin Gothic—during his career.

Linn Boyd Benton retired from ATF on July 1, 1932 and died two weeks later on July 15, 1932. Along with recognition of his many accomplishments, the company’s board of directors described Benton in a statement the following October: “As a Man Mr. Benton endeared himself to us by his modesty, his delightful humor and his probity in all matters, intellectual and material.”

Nicolas Jenson: c. 1420 – 1480

Posted in People in Media History, Print Media, Typography with tags , , , , , , on July 19, 2014 by multimediaman
Artist Robert Thom’s depiction of Nicolas Jenson at his engraving bench

Artist Robert Thom’s depiction of Nicolas Jenson at his engraving bench

The term incunabula (Latin for “cradle”) is used to denote the earliest period of printing from its birth in 1450 up to January 1, 1501. The books, pamphlets and broadsides printed with the movable metal type method associated with Gutenberg during these first fifty years are also commonly called incunabulum.

It is estimated that 35,000 editions were printed throughout Europe—over two-thirds from Germany and Italy—during the second half of the fifteenth century. Remarkably, nearly 80% of these volumes still exist today, most of which are held in large public collections such as the Bavarian State Library in Munich, the Vatican Library in Vatican City and the British Library in London.

The Lenox copy of the Gutenberg Bible on display at the New York Public Library. It was the first complete set brought to the US in 1847.

The Lenox copy of the Gutenberg Bible on display at the New York Public Library. It was the first complete set brought to the US in 1847.

The most famous incunabulum, of course, is the 42-line bible printed by Johannes Gutenberg in Mainz, Germany in the 1450s of which there are 48 copies remaining. Since they were printed in two volumes, many of these copies are incomplete. James Lenox brought the first complete set of the Gutenberg Bible to the US in 1847 after he bought it for $2,500; it now sits on display at the New York Public Library. The last sale of a complete Gutenberg Bible took place in 1978 and went for $2.2 million; it is estimated that one would sell for $25-$35 million today.

The British Library maintains an international electronic bibliographic database of extant incunabulum. Called the Incunabula Short Title Catalogue (ISTC), the database was begun in 1980 and currently contains 27,460 records. The ISTC is an extraordinary merger of modern and Renaissance information technology. That anyone can peruse these records—many of which have links to high-resolution images of 500-year old incunabulum—is a testament to both the lasting achievement of print and the significance of its electronic descendent, the World Wide Web.

* * * * *

Next to Gutenberg himself, Nicolas Jenson is recognized as the most important figure of the incunabula. Despite limited records of his life—his last will and testament, a few book introductions written by others and some document fragments—the legacy of Nicholas Jenson survives through his printed works.

According to Martin Lowry, the printing scholar and author of “Nicholas Jenson and Rise of Venetian Publishing in Renaissance Europe,” the first official biography of Jenson was written in the late 1700s and amounted to “a two-volume potpourri of erudition and fantasy.” While arguing that Nicolas Jenson has become something of a printing cult-figure, Lowry does conclude that Jenson’s “place at the very beginning of the typographic age gives him a special importance.”

It is known that Nicolas Jenson was born in Sommevoire, France, a town about 150 miles southeast of Paris. However, after reviewing Lowry’s research, it is difficult to simply repeat here the many other “facts” that are frequently given of Jenson’s early life: his date of birth, his employment experience and the origin of his metal working skills, the means by which he became familiar with the printing methods of Gutenberg and his route from France to Italy. The things that are repeated in many accounts of Jenson’s life are derived from murky historical anecdotes that are contradicted by other important facts.

An engraving depicting an early Venetian printing shop

An engraving depicting an early Venetian printing shop

Jenson is known to have begun printing in Venice in the late 1460s or early 1470s. Prior to his arrival in Venice, it appears that he spent some time in Vicenza, a mainland town about 30 miles to the west, where he developed his printing skills. Jenson’s arrival in Venice, the first non-German printer in recorded history, coincided with the establishment of several important printing firms in the Italian island city. The most notable of these was the enterprise of John and Wendelin of Speyer who arrived in Venice from Germany in 1468 and were granted a five year monopoly on printing by the city authorities.

Nicolas Jenson’s printer’s mark

Nicolas Jenson’s printer’s mark

The Venetian patrician class of scholar-statesmen considered the arrival of printing a major cultural development. It meant that the works of classical humanist teachings could be reproduced at rates that were inconceivable with the handwritten process of the scribes. The ruling elites encouraged the development of print and by the end of the century there were 150 firms operating in the highly competitive Venetian printing market.

Alongside of print’s cultural impact, there was a considerable business opportunity to be exploited. It was to this side of the incunabula that Jenson devoted most of his efforts. During the ten years that he was a printer in Venice, more than anyone else, Jenson brought investment into the printing industry. His businesses were very successful and he made a considerable fortune before his death in 1480.

However, the most important—and universally recognized—contribution of Nicolas Jenson to the development of printing was his design of an early roman typeface. Prior to Jenson, the style of print typography followed the blackletter example set by Gutenberg, i.e. heavy gothic forms that emulated the dominant pen and ink script of the monks of fifteenth century Germany.

The first page of Eusebius’ "Preparation for the Gospel" printed by Nicolas Jenson in 1470. It is thought to be the first appearance of a roman typeface.

The first page of Eusebius’ Preparation for the Gospel printed by Nicolas Jenson in 1470. It is thought to be the first appearance of a roman typeface.

Such were Nicolas Jenson’s metal working skills that he cut a groundbreaking roman type in 1470. Roman type is distinct from blackletter in that it emulates the square capital letters used in ancient Rome combined with the Carolingian minuscule (lowercase) used during the Holy Roman Empire. The first book to appear with Jenson’s new design was an edition of Eusebius’ Preparation for the Gospel originally written in 313 A.D.

The word roman, without a capital R, has come to denote Italian typefaces used during the Renaissance as well as later fonts derived from them such as Times Roman, for example. Although Jenson’s design was quite different in appearance from Gutenberg’s blackletter, it was also modeled on the scribal manuscript style that was popular in fifteenth century Italy.

A comparison of blackletter script (upper left) with Gutenberg’s blackletter type (lower left) and roman/Carolingian script (upper right) with Jenson’s roman type (lower right)

A comparison of blackletter script (upper left) with Gutenberg’s blackletter type (lower left) and roman/Carolingian script (upper right) with Jenson’s roman type (lower right)

It is a remarkable phenomenon of printing history that the essential forms of Jenson’s roman typeface designed more than 500 years ago are those that we continue to use most often and recognize today as the best and most readable typography. Of course, the characters in the alphabet of the Latin languages are those associated with Jenson’s contribution. But it should also be noted that Jenson designed and cut a Greek alphabet of a similar style.

Throughout the subsequent history of printing, many have noted the beauty and balance of Jenson’s roman type design. In particular, William Morris and the arts and crafts movement of the late nineteenth century focused upon Jenson’s creative genius. According to Lowry, Morris’ romantic affinity for medievalism led to an unjustified elevation of the contribution of Nicolas Jenson alongside those of Johannes Gutenberg and Aldus Manutius.

* * * * *

A search of the British Library’s ISTC for the term “Jenson” results in 113 hits. Many of the items in the database contain links to images of the pages printed by Nicolas Jenson himself on a Gutenberg-style printing press in Venice in the 1470s. A review of these entries shows that—despite language challenges—Jenson’s books appear very similar to those found today in our libraries and book stores. While some of them are adorned with ornate case bound covers and others include hand-illuminated art alongside the printed text, the essential elements of the book are very familiar to any modern reader.

Historians have strictly defined the incunabula as the first fifty years of the printing revolution beginning with Gutenberg. The incunabulum produced by the pioneers of print—including Nicolas Jenson—were devoted to a recreation of scribes’ handwriting such that the reading audience could understand and relate to the new media form.

The questions that arise naturally are: should we consider the early years of the digital revolution to be our modern “incunabula” in which the previous media generation is being replicated in electronic form? Or is the digital age leading to a new media that represents a departure from the forms that were developed and enriched during the Renaissance?

Frederic Goudy: 1865 – 1947

Posted in People in Media History, Print Media, Typography, Uncategorized with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , on May 17, 2014 by multimediaman
Frederic W. Goudy 1865 – 1947

Frederic W. Goudy 1865 – 1947

Making it through our present-day technology transition is surely challenging. We live and work with one foot in the brave new digital, mobile and touch world while the other foot is in ye olde analog, wired and paper world.

Have you done any of the following lately?

  • Talk or text on your smartphone while letting your landline home phone ring without picking it up.
  • Purchase and download an album only to realize later that you already own the CD.
  • Open every piece of US mail while ignoring or deleting the email cluttering your inbox.
  • Check your Facebook newsfeed constantly while not having time to read or even open the daily newspaper.
King Crimson’s 1969 album “In the Court of the Crimson King” contains the track “21st Century Schizoid Man”

King Crimson’s 1969 album “In the Court of the Crimson King” contains the track “21st Century Schizoid Man”

We are bombarded with so much information and have so many messages and redundant media it’s a wonder we get anything done! Our bifurcated and overloaded culture evokes the title of a 1969 King Crimson song: “21st Century Schizoid Man.”

When looking back through history, however, it becomes clear that our present condition is not entirely unique. Previous generations have experienced disruptive and even devastating change. It is a fact that every age is both cause and effect; a moment in time between past and future with a host of unpredictable retreats, twists and turns.

Some may ask: isn’t the present different because the pace of change is becoming quicker? This is true but, in relative terms, the rate of change has always been logarithmic from one generation to the next. The phenomenon of accelerated development embodied in Moore’s Law (the number of transistors on an integrated circuit doubles every two years) is frequently applied to all past and present technological progress.

* * * * *

In reviewing the life of Frederic Goudy—the most important American type designer in the first half of the twentieth century—we see a man who thrived during an era of terrific change. Born at the conclusion of the Civil War, Goudy lived through the industrialization of society and two World Wars. Without a formal education, self-taught and often under difficult circumstances, Goudy became a prolific type designer who was known the world over for his accomplishments. Significantly, Frederic Goudy drew his first alphabet at age 30 and began his career as a professional type designer at the age of 46.

Frederic William Goudy was born on March 8, 1865 about 125 miles south of Chicago in a town called Bloomington, Illinois. As a youngster Fred spent time in the Bloomington library reading Mark Twain and browsing the illustrated Harper’s Weekly magazine. He developed the ability to trace and replicate wood engravings in pencil. Although, he did not excel at mathematics, Fred gained an interest in machines such as the lathe and the pantograph.

Fred’s father, John Goudy, was a school administrator and later a real estate man. He moved the family to four different towns in Illinois in the 1870s and early 1880s. In 1883, the family relocated to the Dakota Territory where John started a business in connection with homestead claims. Living in the prairie hamlet of Highmore near an Indian Reservation and with just two years of high school education behind him, Fred went to work as a clerk in his father’s real estate company.

In 1889, Frederic left Highmore and set out on his own. First going to Minneapolis and then Springfield, Illinois, he worked as a bookkeeper in the real estate offices. During these years, Fred gained experience with advertising and layout of newspaper ads. At twenty-eight years old, Fred moved to Chicago and worked for various offices writing advertising copy and designing ads with local printers.

An example of the esthetics of American typography in the late 1800s

An example of the esthetics of American typography in the late 1800s

In the 1890s, there was no such thing as an advertising industry and there were very few advertising agencies. Newspapers and magazines were filled with garish promotional ads with very bad typography and florid graphics. At this time, Fred started swimming against the tide of generally murky and unreadable printing. In 1893, he founded a magazine called “Modern Advertising” as a means of generating business. Although the publication did not last, Fred gained important experience with the type production and printing processes.

Around 1895, Goudy became influenced with the works of William Morris—the English poet, author, craftsmen and designer—and the Arts and Crafts movement. In collaboration with a Chicago English teacher C. Lauron Hooper, Goudy decided to start his own printing business along the lines of Morris’ Kelmscott Press in England. He would later say of this time, “When I became inoculated with printers’ ink, I was never again the same.”

The young Frederick Goudy in the late 1800s.

The young Frederick Goudy in the late 1800s.

As an amateur, Goudy began experimenting with type designs and developed his hand lettering skills. After a short time in Detroit working for a weekly called The Michigan Farmer, Goudy returned to Chicago and worked on advertising for Marshall Field, The Inland Printer, The Pabst Brewery and Hart Schaffner and Marx. He also designed book covers for The Lakeside Press and Rand-McNally. All Goudy’s type designs through this period were for advertising purposes.

By the turn of the century, Goudy wanted to follow Morris’ lead and print the finest books in America. To do so he believed needed to design his own typeface. In 1903, Frederic Goudy made printing history with the establishment of The Village Press in Park Ridge, Illinois and the creation of The Village Type, his first fine book face. The Village Type was the very first American typeface to be cut and caste from free hand, original drawings from a type designer.

Village Type

An example of Village Type, the first American type face to be designed from free hand drawings, designed by Frederic Goudy in 1903

In 1904, Frederic and his wife Bertha moved The Village Press to Hingham, Massachusetts to become part of The Hingham Society of Arts and Crafts and be surrounded by other craftsmen. In 1906, the Goudy’s moved their printing business to New York City. It was during a trip to England in 1909 and then a trip to the Continent in 1910 that Goudy focused himself upon the scholarship and history of typography.

In 1911, according to his own account, Frederic Goudy became a professional type designer with the creation of Kennerley Old Style. Named for his business associate, publisher and Englishman Mitchell Kennerley, Goudy designed the font specifically for the publication of H.G. Wells’ “The Door in the Wall and Other Stories.” Kennerley Old Style was hit in England and through it Goudy suddenly became associated internationally with great type design. It would take some years more for his work to become recognized in America.

Title page to The Door in the Wall

The title page to H.G. Wells’ “The Door in the Wall,” the first appearance of Kennerley Old Style and the beginning of Goudy’s professional type design

From this point forward, Frederic Goudy devoted his energies to type design and his hand lettering and printing work receded into the background. Over five decades, Goudy designed 122 typefaces, an enormous accomplishment in the era of hot metal typography. Among Goudy’s popular typefaces are:

  • Copperplate Gothic (1905)
  • Goudy Old Style (1915)
  • Hadriano (1918)
  • Italian Old Style (1924)
  • Trajan (1930)
  • Berkeley Old Style (1938)

A significant technology factor in the emergence of type design as a profession—making it possible for someone like Frederic Goudy to achieve success—was the invention by Linn Boyd Benton in 1884 of the pantographic engraver. This device, which represented the industrialization of metal type production, enabled foundries to cut matrices from enlarged drawings. Prior to this development, the making of type was largely the work of handicraft punch cutters and not that of designers. At the age of 60, Goudy acquired his own matrix-cutting machine on which he engraved and cast perhaps some of his greatest work.

During his career, Goudy wrote extensively on type design, lettering, typographic style and history. His works “The Alphabet” (1918) and “The Elements of Lettering” (1922) remain important resources, that latter containing explanatory notes on the considerations and influences behind some of his typeface designs. He founded the journal “Ars Typographica” in 1918 and he became the art director for Lanston Monotype Corporation in 1920 where he remained until his death.

Mirtchell Kennerley and Frederic Goudy

Frederic Goudy (right) with publisher Mitchell Kennerley

Frederic Goudy was famous during his lifetime. He was a rugged man, a widely read commentator on design and esthetics and a popular speaker who was approached for his opinion on many topics, some far from his field of expertise. He was known for his larger-than-life personality, as a raconteur and he could be counted on for comments with a punch line. It is said that Goudy was the originator of the statement, “Anyone who would letterspace blackletter would shag sheep,” although he probably used a different word for the Britishism “shag.”

For some of his competitors, Goudy’s self-promotion was a problem. Historically, type designers had never before named their works after themselves; Goudy used his name in about 20 of his typefaces. Goudy’s love for typography is summed up in his favorite broadside designed and produced for a Chicago exhibition in 1933:

I AM TYPE! Of my earliest ancestry neither history nor relics remain. The wedge-shaped symbols impressed in plastic clay by Babylonian builders in the dim past foreshadowed me: from them, on through the hieroglyphs of the ancient Egyptians, down to the beautiful manuscript letters of the mediaeval scribes, I was in the making.

With the golden vision of the ingenious Gutenberg, who first applied the principle of casting me in metal, the profound art of printing with movable types was born. Cold, rigid and implacable I may be, yet the first impress of my face brought the Divine Word to countless thousands.

I bring into the light of day the precious stores of knowledge and wisdom long hidden in the grave of ignorance. I coin for you the enchanting tale, the philosopher’s moralizing and the poet’s fantasies; I enable you to exchange the irksome hours that come, at times, to everyone, for sweet and happy hours with books—golden urns filled with all the manna of the past. In books, I present to you a portion of the eternal mind caught in its progress through the world, stamped in an instant and preserved for eternity. Through me, Socrates and Plato, Chaucer and Bards become your faithful friends who ever surround you and minister to you.

I am the leaden army that conquers the world; I am Type! 

Frederic W. Goudy died at his home in Marlboro-on-Hudson, New York on May 11, 1947. He is buried next to his wife Bertha in Evergreen Cemetery in Chicago.